Could �1bn sea wall plan be the salvation of Norfolk?

Ed FossCould it be salvation for Norfolk - or is it cloud cuckoo land?Ed Foss

Could it be salvation for Norfolk - or is it cloud cuckoo land?

A massive wall built out at sea and linking Great Yarmouth to Happisburgh, enclosing dozens of square miles of water and turning it into a freshwater haven for wildlife and tourism, could be the answer to some of the climate change challenges facing Norfolk and the northern Broads.

The idea has been put forward by Mike Evans, who has held a series of high-profile posts in the boating world, such as chairman of the Royal Yachting Association, and is the current president of the Norfolk and Suffolk Boating Association and a representative of private boat owners at the Broads Authority.

The wall would act as a 17-mile long breakwater, locking the sea out of both its own area and the delicate habitats of the Broads behind it.

Mr Evans conceded the "dramatic" concept might sound "outlandish and crazy".

But he said that as well as being a serious consideration, it could also have the added benefit of encouraging people to think about the future of the county and the Broads network in a more radical way as the spectre of climate change and rising sea levels continues to hang over the future of the iconic and internationally important low-lying wetlands.

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"We need to think radically and we need to think big," said Mr Evans, who lives in Wroxham.

"Some may think initially it is a crazy idea, but the more they think about it, the more I hope they will collect all the problems we face together and realise that perhaps there is indeed something in it.

"I have run the idea past a fair few people already and many of them have come to exactly that conclusion."

The wall, which has been given a theoretical cost of �1bn, would give a string of benefits, said Mr Evans, including:

Protecting the Broads.

Potentially increasing the land area rather than reducing it.

Creating a scheme with the same level of environmental profile as the Eden project in Cornwall.

Creating jobs and recreational tourism.

Helping to hit house-building targets.

Providing acceptable places to build windfarms.

Storing surplus winter run off water, able to recharge the Broads when summer levels are low.

The idea had precedent, said Mr Evans, with examples such as the freshwater Islemeer, a 400-plus square mile shallow lake in the central Netherlands reclaimed from an inland sea in the 1930s.

"That's not the only example, but it is a very good comparison.

"We have to look at what is possible because I don't think the concept of managed retreat, which has been discussed so much in recent years, has any merit at all.

"It's just some idea thought up by someone in central government, who has no idea of what really goes on in the world.

"I'm not suggesting this is an answer to everything, but what we need is a much more radical approach to the subject of what is going to happen to Norfolk and the Broads.

"It is early stages and debate is important, but the principle is definitely serious."

Paul Thomas, of the EDP's sister publication Anglia Afloat, where Mr Evans' idea has been revealed and discussed in the current January and February edition, said funding would clearly be a difficult hurdle.

But he added: "If the government can throw billions at the banks, the price of this project which could save such a valuable piece of landscape is put in context.

"And bear in mind it could claw back much of its value in money saved on other defence projects which would no longer be necessary, as well as creating new economic opportunities.

"If this can work for the Dutch, it can work for us."

Malcolm Kerby, coordinator of the Happisburgh based Coastal Concern Action Group, said he had heard of similar schemes down the years, including a much larger idea where a wall from Great Yarmouth to Newcastle had been touted.

"I certainly wouldn't kick it into touch on technical grounds, but the first really big question is 'how would it be funded?'

"It raises many more question than that of course, not least the environmental implications.

"It needs a great deal of thought and one of the real benefits of the idea is that it encourages people to think outside of the box, which is so important in the circumstances of climate change in which we find ourselves."

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